Thursday, February 27, 2020


I don't know what brought this on, but this morning I suddenly remembered something. After several years of going to figure/life drawing class, I got so used to including shading to make the drawings look 3D. One day I saw a friend, Pastor Janice, do something else, not color planes but something flat and "modern" and I wanted to emulate, but the shading had become so automatic I couldn't help myself. We both laughed the minute I put in the first bit of shading. You could spend hours and days "perfecting" the shading if the object stays under the same light, and this has its own rewards. But on that day I wanted to draw in the style of, oh, German and UK lino cut in the early 20C. "Graphic".

"Western" writings call Japanese art "flat", that we don't bother with perspective, but that's not strictly true. You've seen the prints; Mt Fuji is usually far away in the background. For years I looked read in English and Japanese to learn the difference but couldn't find anything that made sense. A few years ago I happened upon an article or a vid; I regret not noting at least where I saw it because  I'm going to paraphrase the living daylight out of this, but here goes:

Instead of a gradual/continuous receding/advancing seen in Western art, helped by extensive use of shading/shadows, Japanese see perspective more in stages. And there were some more words explaining this, but the explanation made me visualize a school play where there are clusters of perhaps flowers pots in the foreground, maybe shrubs in the mid-distance, and trees painted on boards and propped up or even painted on the backdrop, at the back. And this made so much sense to me, but I don't know if it immediately means we see the world differently.

Which reminds me of something else. In college I took a course on Japanese Civilization because I was exhausted by the Hollywood portrayal of Geisha/Kamikaze/camera-carrying-eyeglass-wearing tourists en masse, and curious how more learned persons thought. It turned out the prof was dodgy, he was a China specialist, but China/Japan, same thing, right? Pffft. I didn't learn anything but one thing stuck with me.

We were made to look at a tree in full autumnal Minnesota glory from our window, and were to note what we noticed. I saw a leaf at the top, then more leaves around it, and gradually saw what was below, which was the rest of the tree, down to the trunks and then the ground. And apparently I got it right. Phew. Prof said whereas Westerner saw the whole fist and then saw details, (is this even true?) Japanese saw details first and then stepped back to see the whole. I also recall there was a student from Iran or Iraq and now I'm dying to know what he saw first.

I'm also dying to know what you see first, what you think of this. I wonder if it makes a difference in how we think, live, make? I wonder if my perspectives influence (??) my making.

It's not even 10AM yet, so I'm looking forward to the day ahead this Thursday where I have some reading and writing on the list. I hope you have a good one.


  1. It's been a while since I've drawn anything other than super quick gesture drawing, and now I don't know how I'd see/draw a tree. Must try soon.

  2. It's so built-in I find it tricky to analyse what I do - but I think I keep zooming in and out. I start with the whole, then find detail, get lost or overwhelmed and back to the whole. The life drawing class I did last year was definitely start with the overall shape - often some triangle - stay light, add key reference points (where bones show), check relative positions, correct, keep the whole thing at pretty much the same level of development...

    1. In other words, the wonky Prof was right! At least as regards how you see things. :-D For the last 24 hours I've been too self-conscious of how I look I have to give it a rest before I try my drawing experiments. I also see most definitely see colors, and lines/shapes first; patterns and proportions much later. In fact I have to consciously look at them. Interesting to think of how we do things unconsciously, isn't it?


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